Beijing - On a recent afternoon, a visitor from northern
The 38-year-old construction businessman, who asked to be identified by his last name, Zhang, worked hard to build a business with his wife, who is 35. But when they were finally ready to have kids, it was a struggle. So the Zhangs became one more couple among millions of Chinese to turn to an assisted reproductive-health market that has the potential to be worth about $15 billion.
A paradox has emerged in China: As the country finally
relaxes its one-child policy, factors like lower sperm counts, later
pregnancies and other health barriers are making it harder for many to get
pregnant. As a result, businesses from
Families in the world’s most populous country are willing to pay top dollar for fertility therapies. Zhang said his package for IVF, or in vitro fertilization, was 100 000 Yuan ($14,700) for each round.
“Now that our economic conditions are better, we all want children but it’s hard for a lot of us,” he said, puffing on his second cigarette. “All the years of smoking and drinking and business dinners take a toll. It’s difficult for me and my wife to conceive naturally and we needed help.”
For decades, couples in urban
Assuming that 65 percent of infertile couples choose to seek treatment, the total assisted reproductive health market could someday be worth about 107 billion Yuan using an average cost of as much as 40 000 Yuan, brokerage firm Hua Chuang Securities Co. estimates.
Sperm counts [measured by the number of sperm per millilitre] dropped very significantly from 100 million in the early 1970s to as low as 20 million in 2012 in China, according to Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The higher stress levels accompanying economic development,
pollution, late marriage and late childbirth, smoking and alcohol use could be
contributing factors, he said. A study in central
That number had been much higher at 56 percent in 2001, according the study, which was published this year in the medical journal Fertility & Sterility. Many Chinese women, meanwhile, are choosing to have children later as they pursue their careers. Yet the desire to have biological children looms large, and that’s driving demand for services like IVF.
Virtus Health, an Australian company that offers fertility
treatments, receives regular approaches from Chinese firms looking for
partnerships, but getting a local license is difficult. So, Virtus works with
medical tourism agencies in
It has Chinese-speaking fertility specialists, scientists and nurses and its websites are translated into Chinese, according to the firm’s chief executive officer, Sue Channon.
Thousands of miles away, Mark Surrey, co-founder and medical
director of the Southern California Reproductive Center in
“There are increasing numbers of people in
Her company has been conducting IVF and fertility services
in the northern city of
Still, Chinese patients face a number of regulatory hurdles at home. Single women, for instance, aren’t allowed to freeze their eggs in the country. Such restrictions have many patients considering trips abroad.
"Regulations make it difficult to enter the
market," said Masoud Afnan, director of fertility services and
general manager of
Clinics "need a full IVF clinic, with the required number of staff, to do IUI for 2 years. This is an expensive option to just do IUI," said Afnan, referring to intrauterine insemination, a fertility treatment that places sperm directly into the uterus.
“Assisted reproduction has become one of the
fastest-growing, high-potential fields in
Overseas hospital operators like IHH Healthcare Bhd, which
is listed in
Zhang, standing on the busy and narrow street in downtown Beijing, said he knows many others with similar troubles. "Our friends can talk about it openly," he said. "Many of them used IVF too.”
The process requires multiple visits to